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Montreal entrepreneur eyes borough city hall

by Sarah Jesmer October 3, 2017 1 comment
Montreal entrepreneur eyes borough city hall

Zach Macklovitch is beginning a campaign to lead the Plateau-Mont-Royal

In 2011, an inspired West Islander, fresh out of Concordia University, partnered up with his friend Nathan Gannage, to start what would become one of the largest creative agencies in Montreal, focused primarily on event promotion.

The team took a calculated risk and invested in early St-Laurent Boulevard, when the street had a high commercial vacancy rate and very little beneficial guarantees, and opened up three venues. The clubs were a hit, immediately bringing up the street’s economic value, like a winning lottery ticket. The venues are now among the most well-known places to party in Montreal, created to be places for diversity, unity and entertainment.

This is Saintwoods, the company behind SuWu, Apt 200 and École Privée. These businesses are thriving, and now the owner, Zach Macklovitch, is shifting his focus to a new playing field: politics.

Macklovitch is running for mayor of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, alongside Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal in the upcoming municipal election. Sixty-five seats on the Montreal city council will be up for grabs, along with 38 borough councillors positions. If elected, Macklovitch would take the seat of Luc Ferrandez of Projet Montreal, who has been mayor of the borough since January 2010.

As he sat in his sunny office on St-Laurent Boulevard among walls of exposed brick and racks of branded T-shirts, he detailed how his political science background at Concordia helped him decide to run for mayor when the opportunity presented itself this summer. “Denis Coderre approached me as he was looking for, what he would say, a ‘real second option’ against Luc Ferrandez,” Macklovitch said.

It took Macklovitch a few weeks to accept Coderre’s offer. He said he wasn’t expecting the proposition and had to get advice of many family, friends and partners before seriously pursuing the position.

Plateau-Mont-Royal borough mayor candidate Zach Macklovitch pictured in his office, situated above Apt. 200. Macklovitch is running as part of Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal. Photo by Sarah Jesmer

“It was something I always wanted to do, I just didn’t think I was going to do it at 27 years old,” he said about getting involved in politics. Macklovitch’s entrepreneurial investments in St-Laurent caught the attention of the city and news media not just because of their economic success, but also because of his age. He’ll be 28 on Oct. 4, embraces his youth and stands out among older co-workers. For example, in his candidate profile picture for the Équipe Denis Coderre campaign, he’s wearing a loose white T-shirt––a significant contrast to the other candidates wearing three-piece suits.

As mayor, Macklovitch still wants to be a business owner and prioritize the strengthening of businesses on St-Laurent. He said he believes there’s value in facilitating a relationship between the municipal government and Montreal business owners.

His unofficial platform prioritizes the revival of “commercial arteries” that have “taken a hit,” he explained, such as St-Denis and Prince Arthur. He is also looking to reevaluate the policies regulating the business ventures in Montreal.

“There’s an unbelievably awful amount of red tape,” Macklovitch said, explaining how hard he feels it is to get city approval for new business-related projects in the Plateau.

According to him, the current municipal regulations for businesses are impeding progress, citing examples such as the difficulty of creating parking spaces or adding a patio to a small restaurant. “We use our rules and regulations just to be lazy and to say no to things. And that’s not what they’re there for,” he said. “We want to be working with our private citizens to make this city better.”

“We should even be attracting other businesses,” he said. “I would love to see an Amazon campus in the Plateau,” he added, using the online retail giant as an example of the economic future he sees for the area. American cities, such as Los Angeles and Atlanta, have become homes for Amazon, but so far the company hasn’t set up shop in Canada.

The values and goals Macklovitch developed during his experience as an entrepreneur at Saintwoods cross over with his vision as a political leader.

“We fought so hard against Projet Montreal to do everything we’ve done on this street. We had to fight tooth and nail for every step forward that we’ve made,” Macklovitch said, referring to dense procedural regulations Saintwoods encountered during its early stages.

When asked whether he would continue to be involved with Saintwoods should he win the election, Macklovitch was confident that balancing both responsibilities wouldn’t be an issue. “I will continue to be fully involved in Saintwoods. I’ll do both. Absolutely,” he said, adding that he’s a workaholic.

“I’m planning on just adding 15 to 20 hours to my work week every week,” he said. “If you want to do great things, that’s what you’ve got to do, and I’m willing to make that sacrifice if that means I can help to make this neighbourhood what I think it should be.”

According to Élection Montréal spokesperson Pierre G. Laporte, there is no law against borough mayors maintaining their own business. “Not at all,” Laporte said, adding that, unless a mayor breaches a contract with the city or breaks the code of ethics, he or she can’t be asked to resign.

With unblinking eyes he detailed the company’s expansion plans, like opening an Apt 200-esque venue in the United States, the release of a Saintwoods vodka and continued support of artists, such as Ryan Playground, as they release new projects.

Macklovitch said he hopes to bring more full-time employees onto the Saintwoods team with time. “Once everybody has reached a place where they’re comfortable in the company, then I can step back and focus more on the municipal responsibilities,” he said.

As far as issues outside the business world, Macklovitch said he wants to focus on community development and school support. He’d like to see city-organized sports leagues and park enhancements, inspired by the years he spent at summer camp as a kid, he explained.

Macklovitch’s non-economic goals are to make the Plateau feel more like a close-knit neighbourhood. However, he doesn’t intend to make it into its own isolated town, as he emphasized his goal is to work in partnership with other boroughs.

“All that I’m trying to focus on right now is the next six weeks—making sure that we have a strong, well put-together, informative plan-based campaign that’s going to talk about real issues and solving them,” he said, adding that this official platform is expected to be made public this week. “I can tell you that it’s going to be pro-family and pro-business.”

Photos by Sarah Jesmer

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